Advantages of thermoplastic materials in the aerospace industry

The HITCOMP project (High-Temperature Characterization and Modeling of Thermoplastic Composites) of the Horizon 2020 program was coordinated by the Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M). It aims to study the possible advantages of thermoplastic materials in the aerospace industry.

Image credit: Carlos III University of Madrid.

Normally, the European aerospace sector uses light and high performance thermosetting plastic composites, also called epoxy resin composites, in various applications.

But comparatively, these materials are not as heat resistant as other metallic aircraft components, which can sacrifice safety in situations where extreme temperatures have been reached.

An alternative has been proposed by the HITCOMP research team: the use of new thermoplastic materials based on PAEK resins. This was done by taking steps to improve the behavior of current thermoset composites despite heat damage.

During the development of the HITCOMP project, components based on thermoplastics proved to perform very well, from the point of view of their thermal properties, compared to thermosetting composites.

A familiar property that makes them very beneficial is that they can be reshaped, remelted, processed and recycled without any additional hardening processes to stiffen and harden.

They are also affordable materials, more adaptable and environmentally friendly compared to traditional thermosetting composites and have a longer lifespan, thanks to their high resilience – it is possible to recycle or repair more easily – and resistance. to fatigue – wear – and corrosion.

The introduction of these materials would mean having safer and lighter aircraft that consume less fuel, thus improving fuel efficiency and decreasing their emissions.

To get the most out of thermoplastics in the aerospace industry, due to their ability to melt and deform when subjected to overheating, it is essential to identify their behavior when exposed to fire, heat and mechanical loads.

The HITCOMP project developed a test laboratory and new infrared (IR) thermography methods to obtain accurate and non-intrusive measurements of the actual temperature of materials during fire tests. The last objective is to carry out virtual tests on thermoplastics and to compare their performance in real applications with that of traditional thermosetting composites.

The aerospace sector is in the midst of a transition to a more electric aircraft. This involves more heat and possibly fire sources, increasing the heating effect on the structure.

Fernando López, Principal Investigator of the Study, Department of Physics, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

López, who is also the coordinator of the HITCOMP project, said: “In this context, our project aims to implement an innovative methodology that allows a less resource-intensive characterization of thermoplastics and improves the prediction of their behavior and their resistance to mechanical stress or fire and high temperatures..

The measurements carried out by infrared thermography make it possible to carry out computer simulations which virtualize the tests to choose this type of material in the aeronautical industry.

The implementation shoulddrastically reduce the number of validation tests, which are mandatory and significantly increase the cost and delay the approval of this type of equipment in the industry.

Already, the IR models and equipment have been transferred to the Airbus company so that its industrial application can be studied.

The research group also developed a new technique during the research process, inspired by early results from UC3M’s Sensors, Remote Sensing and InfraRed Imaging Laboratory (LIR-InfraRed LAB).

This makes it possible to use these infrared imaging methods to identify the thermal properties of these materials remotely, without any contact.

The HITCOMP project has been financially supported by the Horizon 2020 program under the 2020 call for proposals for Research and Innovation Actions (RIA) and is part of the 2019 European Union Clean Sky 2 announcement .

Likewise, it is supported by the Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA, in its Spanish acronym), the high-tech company IR, Sensia Solutions and Airbus Fire Lab.

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Video credit: Carlos III University of Madrid.


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